Once it’s out there on the Internet, it’s there forever . . . or is it?

Up until recently, that question would not have been viable.  Changes might be coming—but I’m not convinced the changes will be all good.

Jeffrey Rosen, law professor at George Washington University and legal-affairs editor of The New Republic, writes:

“Soon, citizens around the world may have the ability to selectively delete themselves from the Internet.” (“The Right to Be Forgotten” The Atlantic July/August 2012, p. 60)

Rosen describes the interesting case of Virginia Da Cunha, an Argentinean pop star who once posed for some rather embarrassing photos.  Some of those shots wound up on the Internet.  It was then Da Cunha experienced a change of heart about the photos.  She demanded Google and Yahoo delink all sites connected to her name and the photos.  She took her claim to the court system in Argentina and the judge ruled in her favor.  And now the door is open for others to follow in Da Cunha’s footsteps.

The battles will likely intensify.  Google and Facebook are vehemently fighting the legal concept.  They believe the new legal twist would transform them from being neutral platforms for human expression and social connection into global censors.  They may have good points as Rosen explains:

“At the beginning of this year, Viviane Reding, the European commissioner for justice, fundamental rights, and citizenship, proposed codifying a sweeping version of the right to be forgotten in European data-protection law. . . . But the right to be forgotten also gives people the right to demand the removal of embarrassing information that others post about them, regardless of its source, unless Google or Facebook can prove to a European regulator that the information is part of a legitimate journalistic, literary, or artistic exercise.” (60)

This clearly conflicts with the American ideal of free speech.  Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.  Censorship is something we decry.  Daily, people publish embarrassing, yet truthful, information about other people.  Being able to say what we want to say, when we want to say it, the way we want to say it is one of the great liberties for which this nation stands.  (Yes, I understand the legitimate exceptions such as yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.)

While it is understandable people make decisions they later regret, other avenues exist to clean up an online reputation.  Strategically adding new, positive content often buries the old embarrassing stuff.  You can subscribe to the services of an online-reputation company to attack the problem continuously, systematically, and thoroughly.

Rosen is optimistic about a positive outcome acceptable to all parties:

“The Europeans may be going overboard in creating a new legal right to escape your past on the Internet, but if the threat of regulation prompts Facebook and Google to explore less heavy-handed ways of empowering users around the globe to clean up their online reputations, perhaps Europe and America can find some kind of common ground after all.” (p. 60)

For all our sakes, I hope Rosen is right.

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About James Meadows

Currently I serve as a training team manager for Tyco Integrated Security at a customer-care center in Kansas City. Additionally, I am a business consultant, a freelance corporate writer, an Assembly of God ordained minister, a Civil Air Patrol chaplain, and a blogger. I believe we are living in the most fascinating times of human history. To maximize the opportunities these times present, I have a passionate interest in leadership development and organizational success, both of which I view as inextricably linked.

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